The Phenomenon Of Language Learning And Learners English Language Essay

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The phenomenon of language learning and learners seeking to acquire a further language has been of interest to linguistic researchers for many years. First Language Acquisition (FLA) takes place as a very young age as a child is growing and developing both physically and psychologically. Second Language Acquisition (SLA) usually takes place after FLA has finalised and more often than not undertaken by adults. There are many theories that discuss how language is acquired and the factors that contribute to how successful a person can become in acquiring a second language (Krashen, 1985), for example motivation, age, learning environment.

A statement by Yule (2006), discusses that first language acquisition (FLA) is remarkable for the speed in which is takes place and that long before a child starts school, he or she have become an extremely sophisticated language-user. It can be assumed that children will know language and talk or make sounds regardless of their upbringing. This statement by Yule will be analysed in relation to whether SLA can be acquired in much the same way as FLA and complimented by further researchers throughout this essay.

In addition to the statement by Yule, the capacity to acquire language and whether it can be replicated in learning a second language. Such theories as the 'Critical-Age Hypothesis' and 'Fundermental Difference hypothesis' (Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams, Collins, Amberber, & Harvey. 2007), 'Affective Filter hypothesis' (Dulay & Burt, 1974) and the 'Input hypothesis' (Krashen, 1982), will be discussed to in order to highlight the difference from FLA and second language acquisition (SLA).

Furthermore comparing and contrasting first language (FL) and second language (SL) acquisition will highlight the many factors that contribute to one's ability to become fluent in a second language. A point of discussion to consider would be that language acquisition is universal and every child acquires language, to what extent and how efficient is determined by the child's environment (Brown, 2000).

Part A

Quote by Yule into here too!! -

Yule theorises that a child develops language skills and has an innate ability or capacity for language. This is most likely due to the fact that children have vocal chords and are to make utterances. These sounds or noises are made by accident at first but through development of aural muscles, exposure to language and life experiences, they begin to make understandable utterances (source this).

The fact that language acquisition occurs for all children whether there is significant differences in circumstances or upbringing gives a strong indication and support for the notion of innate predisposition in infants to acquire language. The question arises from this quote by Yule (2006), is that, is this inborn capacity enough? (should this be in the intro so then i have the essay to answer it i.e innate ability and comprehensible input blah blah blah can answer it??).

Exposure, life experience, parent influence, cultural aspects (aiding in understanding) and learning in the early primary school years are all factors that play a role in successful language acquisition.

In support for Yule, Brown (2000), says that repetition and association in the key to formation of habits and practice is the key to children's language acquisition. He also states that language acquisition is not just about speaking but being spoken to and that interaction occurs on both adult and peer level.

I haven't discussed the innate capacity in the rest of the essay!!! It is obvious that innateness is not enough. I didn't know if need to discuss it more. Part b and c don't really require me to discuss it do they?

Part B

There are many different researchers that discuss both FLA and SLA and how circumstances vary in acquiring either language. Fromkin (2007), Krashen (1982), Chomsky (1965) and Foster-Cohen (2001), all provide valid and significant research to assist in the discussion of whether the capacity to acquire language can be replicated in learning a second language (SL).

In having said this it is not possible to give a practical or conclusive yes or no answer to this question. There are many factors that need to considered and not all researchers agree. At what age a person learns the SL and the level of exposure and how often the learner is will to practice are just a few of the significant elements to consider.

Many people are introduced to a SL only after they have achieved competence in their native or First Language (FL). Adults require conscious attention, intense study and memorisation to become proficient in a SL. In most cases adults learning a SL will not achieve native like grammatical competence in SL, particularly in pronunciation (Fromkin et. al, 2007).

Fromkin et. al. (2007), notes that unlike FLA, that is uniformly successful across children and languages, adults vary in their ability to acquire a SL completely. There are exceptions that people can be talented and learn a SL proficiently however, most need to work very hard at learning the SL.

The level of success in acquiring SL depends on a number of factors. Fromkin et. al. (2007) states that such factors could be age, talent, motivation and whether the learner is in the country of the SL or attending intensive classes with no further contact with native speakers. These factors are part of the 'fundamental difference hypothesis' of SLA and was created as many people (including linguists) who study SLA believe that SLA is something quite different from FLA (Fromkin, 2007).

Krashen (1982) also provides similar elements that can contribute to a person acquiring a SL. An example of such factors are level of instruction, measures of exposure, age of acquirer and motivation.

It is important to note however that Krashen (1982) has a differing opinion on whether SLA can occur in the same way as FLA. All of the factors discussed do need to be taken into account before a reliable conclusion can be drawn.

Fundamental Difference Hypothesis (not sure where to put this)

In FLA the learners are very young and cognitively underdeveloped, however they learn a rich and extremely complex hierarchically structured communication system. (maybe this is good for start of part A)They also tend to learn this without understanding the basic properties of the system (Moskovsky, 2001).

Bley-Vroman has stated that first and second language acquisition have fundamental differences which indicate that they are two different processes and comparing the two, shows that adult SLA exhibits a small amount of the properties that are characteristic of FLA. Unlike FLA, SLA has very little uniformity, cognitive ability, motivation or social status. SL learning takes much effort and SL learners are not 'equipotential' (Schachter, 1996. Pp.159), for any natural language and they often attempt to learn a language that is similar to that of their native language. It has been found that a learners first language has a great impact on second language competence and performance and SLA relies on instruction and correction (Moskovsky, 2001).

The Fundamental Difference Hypothesis by Bley-Vroman (1989), presupposes that first and second language acquisition involve a linguistic knowledge base and a set of cognitive procedures but each vary within the two types of acquisition.

FLA relies on Universal Grammar (UG) as a knowledge base and specific set of procedures (known as an innate Language Acquisition Device), whereas SLA relies on the learner's first language and a set of general procedures. A second language learner's first language knowledge base is without question invaluable in aiding understanding of the second language and it contains most of the universal properties of language known as UG. It must taken into consideration that not all UG is encoded in a persons first language.

Moskovsky (2001), states that learners generally achieve higher with languages that are closer to a person's first language and the influence of FL can be observed at all levels of language (phonological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic).

Second language learning is a manifestation of general cognition and no different from any other type of general learning. Adult SLA has a number of properties that are part of any area of general learning. There are differences in levels of success rates due to social and psychological variables that have been previously discusses such as, age, education level, motivation, attitude and effort that the learner is willing to put in (Moskovsky, 2001).

Input Hypothesis

The input hypothesis attempts to answer one of the most important questions in educational and linguistic research. That is 'how is language acquired?'. The way in which language is acquired impacts the teaching of both first and second languages. With this hypothesis it is suggested that we acquire language by 'going for meaning' first and then as a result we acquire structure (Krashen, 1985).

According to this theory, the most successful way to teach language is to provide the learner with comprehensible input as speaking fluency occurs over time; it cannot be taught. This concept is applicable for SLA also.

This hypothesis is paralleled to the notion of 'caretaker speech', that is, parents/adults modifying their language when speaking to young children. Caretaker speech is not about teaching a language but to aid in comprehension (Krashen, 1982).

When discussing SLA it is interesting to note that caretaker speech is regularly used as it is in first language learning. Although in second language learning it is not always adult to child, it is native language speakers that modify input (to what is known as comprehensible input in the input hypothesis), when speaking to less than fully competent speakers of their language (second language learners) to aid in comprehension (Krashen, 1982).

The input hypothesis indicates that the classroom may be the best place for SLA up to intermediate level as the classroom can be a much better place that the outside world as a classroom provides more opportunities for comprehensible input, particularly for older acquirers. It is thought that outside the classroom there is very little comprehensive input (Krashen, 1982).

In addition to the input hypothesis it is crucial that when discussing language acquisition and more specifically SLA, the Affective Filter hypothesis be referred to. This hypothesis related directly to the SLA process (Dulay & Burt, 1974). The three attitudinal factors that are discussed within this area of study are motivation, self confidence and anxiety as they relate directly to acquisition and not learning.

Krashen (1982), states that the Affective Filter hypothesis captures the relationship between affective variables and the process of SLA by posing that acquirers vary in strength or level of their affective filters. People who do not have the right attitude for SLA will tend to seek less input and have a 'strong' affective filter. The filter refers to the barrier between input and acquired communication. Acquirers with optimal attitudes are hypothesised to have 'low' affective filters (Dulay & Burt, 1974).

Krashen (1982), believes SLA can be obtained and proficiency acquired if all factors mentioned are considered and overcome. The Affective Filter hypothesis is an effective way to explain elements that can prevent a person from achieving fluency in SLA.

Part C

As previously stated, FLA tends to occur within the first few years of life. All children raised in a relatively normal developmental environment naturally acquire both fluently and efficiently, their native language without formal lessons (Brown, 2000).

As children reach the end of their first year they attempt to imitate adults and by 18 months they are developing two word sentences (known as 'telegraphic' utterances) and at around school age (5 years) children can construct and comprehend meaningful conversations (Brown, 2000).

There is nothing to show or research that suggests that these levels of language and and time frames are achieved in SL learning. SLA predominantly occurs after FLA had occurred and often through formal learning situations such as school or university.

FL users tend to use language without truly understanding or knowing what it means. SL learners tend to learn rules of SL and focus more on grammatical corrections rather than through use of language gained from exposure and life experience like FL users do (Brown, 2000).

When considering child FLA and adult SLA, many comparisons can be made. The critical-age hypothesis suggests there may be a biologically determined critical period for language learning after which it is more difficult to acquire a language. It has been argued that this period coincides with the onset of puberty (Lenneberg, 1967).

Within the critical-age period, language acquisition is easily gained and without a formal or structured learning environment. After this period acquisition is considered more difficult and for most SL learners grammatical acquisition and fluency is rarely achieved (Fromkin, 2007).

Another comparative factor between child FLA and adult SLA that must be discussed is that of 'affective factors' such as inhibition, self-esteem, confidence and attitude towards native speakers of the language being learnt (Krashen, 1982).

Children tend to learn FL in a family nurturing environment and language is spoken and adapted to the child's level of understanding which prevents anxiety or self-esteem issues in speech. Children are not often aware of mistakes that are made or that parents correct such mistakes over a period of time and therefore they learnt the correct grammatical forms. On the other hand adults learning a SL do not see making mistakes as a normal part of SL learning. Adults who find it difficult in pronunciation or sounds that are different from FL, may give up learning the SL. Peer pressure and have to put too much effort into learning a SL can also be factors for someone to stop learning the SL (Krashen, 1982).


In having discussed hypotheses such as, critical-age, fundamental difference and affective-filter hypothesis it can be concluded that SLA is achievable and learner's can become fluent and proficient in a second language however, after considering all factors it is clear that the capacity to acquire language can be available learning an additional language. It must be noted though, that FLA and SLA are acquired differently and SLA is much more complicated and many factors contribute to how successful a SL learner is at acquisition.

Responsibility lies with the learner in regards to motivation, not being turned away by mistakes and making the effort to practice. A language teacher also needs to be aware of factors that contribute to successful second language learning in to promote and foster a productive learning environment.